BABY | TODDLER

DESK OR CRIB?

I have been working on this post all year. Not because I was hesitant to share, but because its existence in draft form has allowed me to keep coming back to it, revisiting my feelings and tweaking. In fact, there was a point in the spring where, if I had hit publish, the ending would have been totally different. It tells a story about our den, about how where we live has had an impact on our plan for our family, about how our children truly are our best teachers and about our commitment to a simple lifestyle. Thanks for reading this one!

When we bought Oak House in early 2017, it was the largest of any house that we had viewed or considered in Victoria. It had the two bedroom, one bathroom floor plan that we wanted, but it also had a room at the front of the house, an extra 120 square feet that we honestly didn’t know what to “do” with. We had one child (and no plans for more) and we had us and we all had somewhere to sleep. I was planning to work from home, but also knew I’d very comfortable in the sunny, bright dining room, with my computer and notebook stored in the dining room built-ins.

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This extra room sat empty for over a year, sort of necessary anyways because it had a drop ceiling, wood panelling on the walls, gross flooring, etc. It wasn’t an inspiring place and we didn’t have any furniture or function for it. We started calling it the den — figuring it could eventually serve as a cozy extension of our living room, with maybe a futon for occasional overnight guests and a work space for me. At some point last fall, we started thinking, very tentatively, hesitantly… maybe it would be a nursery? This thought shocked me because I have always always pictured my family as a family of three — mom, dad and (ideally) one precocious little girl. She ride the subway, visit museums, travel to a dozen countries before she turned 12 and I would never have to say, “Just a minute” while I attended to her brother or sister’s needs. (Or, more realistically, “Can you give me one fucking minute?” while another child pulled at my leg, shirt or hair).

Around the same time that this “nursery?” thought was pecking at my heart and womb, the group of small family home bloggers that I write alongside did a post about home size and family size. The topic was actually my suggestion. When I suggested it, we had just purchased Oak House, our second house with two bedrooms. In choosing to live small again, we were renewing our vow to be a family of three. And it felt like it would be an interesting post to write and to read about how others felt. Did your home size have anything to do with the number of children you decided to have? Or would you have the number of children you wanted and squeeze them all into bunks if that was necessary? But then I didn’t even write on the topic that I had suggested. I couldn’t without revealing that I was maybe changing my mind about our family size and I didn’t want to say anything until I was sure. Having a one-child family felt central to my identity — in the same way that living minimally in a small home feels like an important part of who I am — so changing my mind felt like a pretty big deal.

There are many reasons why I have always pictured myself parenting an only child. Wanting to provide that child with the best possible life (from an opportunity/attention standpoint). Balance in my own life (Saturday morning yoga, part-time work) and marriage. Long-term financial goals. Work flexibility. My own experience with sibling rivalry. Knowing that I tend to play favourites. Hating sharing and not wanting my child to ever have to. Introversion (and so my need for a lot of alone time to recharge). Seeking a smaller environmental footprint. Age/health/vanity reasons — I only just started to feel like “myself” again around Frankie’s second birthday and had no desire to box up my wardrobe again. Freedom to travel — we can almost taste a child-free trip to Sonoma. Relative ease of eating out/getting around. Sleep.

But.

It’s sort of impossible to explain the love you feel for your own child or to know the wonder that is pregnancy and birth before you’ve been through it (and recovered from it). As frustrating/annoying as it was, I sort of understand, now, why people (strangers!) said, “Oh, you’ll change your mind” whenever I informed them that Frankie Rose was (and would remain) an only child. Living in Victoria has done wonders for our quality of life. We are so much happier here, with the beautiful weather, lower cost of living, flexible work schedules, the ocean and mountains right there — and our house, through no plan of our own, had an extra room. A second child, which we never even considered back in Toronto, started to feel like a possibility here. A blessing rather than a burden. Especially because a small family living on an island — well, that gets a little lonely. The cousins and close friends who I imagined Frankie growing up with — no need for siblings with the packed social calendar that comes with having family and lifelong friends nearby — they don’t exist here, at least not yet.

After about six months of anguished back-and-forth consideration on my part, in January of 2018, we actually made the decision to go for it — the den was going to be a nursery! (Once it was renovated, of course.) When that drywall was going up, I was thinking baby, baby, baby and picturing a crib on the far wall.

And then, Frankie and I both got the flu so badly — Pierre was away — that I had to call 911 and have us both taken to the hospital by ambulance. I was so dehydrated that I was unable to open or close my hands — they were paralyzed into these little claws — and the lower half of my body was tingling so badly that I couldn’t walk, let alone take care of a toddler who had been throwing up since 9:00 am herself. I felt so vulnerable — there had not been one single person (besides the paramedics) who I could call on to help us. (And before you think I’m friendless and alone here, I’m not — but it takes longer than a year to build the sort of friendship where it’s okay to cry and/or puke in front of someone.)

When Pierre got home five days later, I was wanting to reevaluate the baby question. He still had 18 months left in his contract with the mine and dealing with what I had just (barely) dealt with felt like it would have been impossible if I’d had two children to care for. But, it turns out, I was already pregnant. I welcomed the news with a lot of anxiety and a tiny bit of excitement. We were making progress on the den (nursery!) and thinking baby, baby, baby. I was having so many doubts, but trying to focus on the times Pierre would be home to help rather than the times I’d be juggling two young children on my own.

I don’t know if it was the terrible flu or if it would have happened anyway, but I lost the pregnancy really early on, around five weeks. I felt alternately disappointed and relieved about the loss, totally unsure about what that meant and swinging wildly between wishing I was still pregnant to feeling like I dodged a bullet.

We decided to sit the next month out, to try and figure out what I really wanted to do, and, in that time, Frankie went through a terrible sleep situation. Separation anxiety? Two-year sleep regression? Molars? Who knows — but I basically didn’t get any sleep for over two weeks and I was suffering. I couldn’t help but do the math — I should’ve been eight weeks pregnant at that point — and anyone who has ever been eight weeks pregnant knows how exhausting that is, all by itself. Forget the toddler who is insisting you sit by their bed for all hours of the night.

Work continued on the den — it felt strange to keep calling it the nursery — and my one month pause turned into two, then three. I bought (and read and agreed with a lot of) the book One and Only by Lauren Sandler. I read this article about a dozen times, basically every time I felt myself wanting to drift off to babyland again. Several months after the pregnancy loss, I found myself back in the “one and done” camp. It was almost as though the adrenaline rush of finding out about the pregnancy, that week spent thinking we were going to be a family of four and then the emotional drain of losing the pregnancy sated my desire for a second, at least temporarily.

Looking at that back wall in the den, the image that my mind’s eye conjured up kept changing — should we buy a crib for a new baby or a desk for me to grow my freelance business? It felt like whatever choice we made — as inexpensive/impermanent as a crib/desk purchase is — would be us choosing our path.

Were we going to be done with the infant/toddler season and enjoy the freedom and independence of having just one, older child (travel, work, etc.) or were we going to double down on parenthood, accept that this season of life contains many sacrifices that are worth it in order to feel that immense, unconditional love for a child? Would having another child really help root us to our new home and community? Did I want to give birth at an idyllic midwifery farm in Strawberry Vale and be a family of four more than I wanted to keep going to Saturday morning yoga and working a little bit and enjoying every moment with my daughter and not feeling stretched to the point of breaking?

I bought a desk.

And I spackled the cut-aways that would allow a door to close the den off from the living room. I ordered shades for the den — not the black-out kind. I gave a big box of Frankie’s 12–24 month clothes to our plumber. And I talked a big game with Pierre — we can go to Hawaii (alone) for our ten-year wedding anniversary! We never have to buy another $35 box of diapers! We’re almost done with teething forever! My clothes all fit again! I gave a big sigh of relief.

And then I changed my mind again.

It’s a huge compliment to Frankie that, before having her, I vehemently, outspokenly wanted only one child. Even as a child myself — nine, ten years old — I really couldn’t understand why anyone would “shackle” themselves with multiple kids. I hated sharing and told myself (and any adult who would listen) that my own child would never have to. But, two years after becoming a mother, I thought about having a second at least twice every day (mostly while my only child was sleeping). The one thing I didn’t understand about motherhood before I became a mother was, well, how intoxicating your own babies and children are. Frankie turns 2½ in a few days and she’s a walking, talking, climbing, singing, funny, little girl and, as challenging and exhausting as it all is, it’s also magical in its own way. As wonderful as it is to be done with food all over my floors, it’s also a little sad — the days are long, but the years are short, as they say.

We keep family photos on our fridge, some of our favourites from our newborn shoot with Edmonds and McKinlay Photography, and most mornings we look at the pictures and point out details and people together. On Mother’s Day weekend this year, Frankie pointed to her (two-week-old) self and, when I asked, “Who is that?”, she replied, “Sister.”

My daughter is her own person — she’s not me (who would have thrived as an only child). She’s kind, selfless, sweet, gentle, quick to share (yesterday she gave her only sticker to another child who had fallen at the park), loves being around other children. She’s never once grabbed a toy from another child, shoved or pushed anyone that I’ve ever seen. It look me a long time to get here, but, when I put myself aside (something I’m not great at doing), I realized that giving her a sibling would really be just that — giving, as opposed to the “taking away” that I had always associated with having more than one child. All those reasons that I always pictured myself as the parent of just one child? They were all about me. And if being a mother has taught me anything it’s that you will always, always put your child ahead of you.

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I have buried the lead a little bit here (thanks for reading this far), but we’re going to be welcoming a new baby Landry to the world in late January. I’m still a little anxious, but working towards excitement. True to our personalities, Frankie is so ready to share me with her “baby sister” (we don’t know yet) and I’m not quite ready to share my love for her with anyone else, but her excitement is contagious. How funny that she’s the one convincing me that it’s all going to be okay as opposed to the other way around. How much I still have to learn from her.

The den is going to be enjoying a few more months as an office/playroom and then it will become a nursery/playroom until both children are sleeping well enough to share, at which point I plan to revert the nursery to a flexible family space that everyone can enjoy. Our 1177 square foot, two-bedroom home is not going to get “tight” because of our new addition, but we are going to be squeezing a sort-of unplanned-for human into our small space, which will mean reinvigorating our commitment to living simply and owning less.

As for my office,  we’ve decided that I’ll stay home full-time for as long as it feels right to do so this time — no “back-to-work” date decided ahead of time. With Pierre still planning to work at the mine for as long as it feels right for him to do so, I’m taking the pressure off myself to define what and when back-to-work looks like for me. After all, that’s what minimalism is all about — figuring out what’s important to you and then saying “no” to anything that detracts from or overwhelms those things. Freelancing has been a wonderful way for me to have my cake and eat it too, but, between all the home renovations, weekly airport runs, homemaking, self-care and having just 12 hours of childcare/week for Frankie, it often felt overwhelming to me to work even part-time, as much as I enjoy what I do. Since I’ve added pregnancy (i.e., appointments, fatigue) to my plate, I’m planning to wrap up all of my contracts over the fall months and trust that I’ll figure it out when it comes time to look for work again.

 

I would just love to hear your thoughts on this — it has obviously taken up so much space in my heart this past year. How many kids do you have/want? How did you decide? Did you ever debate adding a child to your family? Any regrets?

Photos in this post by Rachael Alexandra co.

 

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